As Save the Post Office has previously reported, I have been working for the past year to overturn the 55-cent price to mail a one-ounce, stamped, First-Class letter. Concerned citizens can support my efforts by submitting comments to the Postal Regulatory Commission by October 29, 2019.
You can easily submit a comment on the PRC website’s contact page here, or you can submit a more formal comment here (reference docket R2020-1).
In October 2018, the Postal Service filed a Notice of Market-Dominant Price Adjustment with the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) to raise the basic postage rate from 50 cents to 55 cents. The Postal Service told the PRC that a five-cent increment “should facilitate convenience for retail customers, for whom a straightforward, understandable pricing structure is more important than it is for commercial customers, who do not rely on stamps.” As it raised the rate that the general public and small businesses pay by 10 percent, the Postal Service increased the rates for large presort mailers by under one percent.
I filed comments with the PRC opposing this increase, citing inconsistencies with the statutory pricing criteria in the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act. Among other challenges, I observed that the public, for most of history, had never had any difficulty understanding postage prices that were not divisible by five. (I explained the issues in this article on Save the Post Office.)
The PRC approved the increase anyway, offering little explanation for its decision. I responded by filing a petition for review with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (aka the D.C. Circuit) challenging the PRC’s decision.
As Save the Post Office reported, on September 13, 2019, the D.C. Circuit granted my petition, ruling that the “Commission fell short of the [Administrative Procedure Act’s] requirement for reasoned decisionmaking because it did not adequately analyze the stamp price hike’s compliance with all of the [Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act’s] relevant statutory objectives and factors, particularly those raised in the public comments.”
The court’s ruling was widely reported in the news, including articles in Government Executive (“Court Rules Postal Service’s Largest-Ever Stamp Price Increase Is Illegal“) and the Associated Press (“Postal Service licked in court fight over stamp price hike“). Its implications were also discussed in a thoughtful opinion piece by the New York Time’s court watcher and Pulitzer Prize winner Linda Greenhouse.
In reporting on the court’s decision, Save the Post Office wrote that “we don’t know what impacts today’s ruling will have on the rate hike, which has been in effect since January.” The court’s order created some uncertainty because the Postal Service was entitled to request another round of rate increases, up to a CPI increase of 1.9 percent, in October 2019, to take effect in January 2020. And the Postal Service did so, filing a new Notice of Market-Dominant Price Adjustment on October 9, 2019.
The Postal Service now proposes to retain the 55-cent rate. Despite the extensive criticism of the five-cent rounding policy during the court case, I am surprised that the Postal Service continues to support this pricing policy. In the current notice, the Postal Service states, “Whatever other ways in which stamp-related transactions might be simple regardless of price, it cannot be denied that, for the individual and small-business mail users who use Stamped Letters, rates denominated in five-cent increments are easier to remember and compute than those denominated otherwise.”
PRC Accepting Comments
I plan to file comments with the PRC this week challenging the five-cent rounding policy. Most mailers do not “compute” any rates when they use forever stamps, additional-ounce stamps, and nonmachinable surcharge stamps, as they simply apply stamps based on the physical characteristics of the mail piece. To the extent that they do compute rates, mailers are perfectly capable of adding rates that are not divisible by five.
The Postal Service has not advanced a legally valid reason for five-cent rounding or the 55-cent rate, so the PRC should lower the basic postage rate to 52 or 53 cents, the amount that would apply if the rate, starting at 50 cents, had been increased in 2019 and 2020 by the amount allowable under the CPI price cap.
Comments from other members of the public will strengthen the case to lower the basic postage rate. Comments can be brief and informal and simply need to state an objection to the notion that the public would find a postage rate that is divisible by five to be more straightforward, convenient, or understandable, or easier to compute, than a lower rate that was not divisible by five. Commenters should feel free to elaborate. They also may want to advocate for the 55-cent rate to be reduced so that it does not exceed inflation-based increases from a base of 50 cents because the Postal Service has not provided a valid rationale for the 55-cent rate.
A couple of days after this post was published, the PRC issued Order No. 5285 approving the price adjustments for First-Class Mail for 2019. The Commission discusses the court’s ruling on Carlson v. PRC and analyzes the statutory pricing criteria, but it approved the 2019 increase and sidestepped the Postal Service’s underlying justification for the 55-cent rate, the policy of five-cent rounding, and found other bases for justifying the rate (but not the policy).
On October 24, Carlson also filed his comments to the PRC.